It was dusk the next night when Olivia woke, her clothes still damp. She pushed off the tarpaulin that one of the ghouls had draped over her, and switched on her phone. Another message from Cain; this one a mass transmission
I regret to inform you that Samuel has resigned his position due to behaviour unbefitting of a primogen and endangerment of the Masquerade
Samuel? Olivia sat up, frowning at her phone. Cain had made it sound like Dante was the one in trouble last night. What had changed?
With a sigh, she tapped in Dante’s number.
“You got time for me tonight?”
Dante hesitated. “For you? A little. Where would you like to meet?”
“Somewhere we won’t be overheard.”
Dante paused a moment, and Olivia heard a soft riffling; a rolodex? “I have a place,” said Dante, reading the name of a pub on the north side of the city, near the moors.
Olivia scribbled down the address and ended the call.
She fixed her hair as best she could, but the clothes were a lost cause; still damp from the rain and now rumpled from her day of sleeping on the floor, most of her skirt and blouse covered in a fine coating of grey dust. She brushed herself down, getting the worst of it, but still looking unkempt. People will think I look crazy, she thought as one of her guards, the dark rings of a new parent under his eyes, held the passenger door of the car open for her.
Too bad I really am.
Dante was waiting for her at the bar, a pint of guinness sat staunchly in front of him. At least, he looked superficially like Dante. The same eyes, the same nose, the same slightly infuriating aura of smugness; these were all present. But the primogen’s red hair was a muted brown, his strange black-and-white suit rendered and indeterminate blue-grey. He raised a hand in greeting, picking up his drink as he stood and stalked towards her.
“I’ve got a room for us in the back.”
They sat side-by-side at a small table in a room marked “for private functions only”. The single tiny window might once have looked out onto the rolling expanse of Darkmoor, but now it looked out onto the carpark, overshadowed by the industrial estate.
Dante smiled companionably, still brown-haired and unremarkable. “So, Olivia, what seems to be the problem?”
“I -uh-” Olivia laid her hands on the table, palm down. It was sticky. “I’m afraid I’ve been method-acting the fool,” she sighed.
Dante looked sympathetic. “Oh?”
I cared too much about Balrus. I acted too rashly in making a deal for his life. I’m in over my head with Eyes. And Dante probably knows all that already. Olivia swallowed. “I’m leveraged too much. I didn’t think Eyes would make a deal in bad faith, but she did. She set me up to fail. There’s no way I could have succeeded at what she wanted, unless what she wanted was for Victor to have to brush my ash off his jacket.”
Dante seemed to consider this, raising his glass to his lips. “She’s ridden on the coat-tails of others before,” he said. “It’s not beyond the realms of possibility.”
“Honestly, I’m more worried about what she’s going to ask me instead. Some kind of atrocity, or something, I don’t know.” Olivia looked down. “I’m worried that she will leverage me into dragging you into this, too.”
“I have the means to cancel your debt with Eyes,” said Dante. “But I couldn’t do so without appearing to favour you over the rest of the malks.” And he has to at least not appear to play favourites, Olivia realised. If he wants to keep the peace. Still, she felt grateful to him for even considering the notion.
“What about the Luna favour?” she asked.
Dante looked thoughtful. “That would balance it, yes.”
Olivia tilted her head. She got the feeling that Dante was leaving some things unsaid. “What would you advise?”
“Talk to Eyes. She’ll let you in without payment, now that you’ve paid her first price-” Did everyone know about her deal with the prince? Or had Dante set it up in the first place? She wouldn’t put it past him. Dante set down his drink. “And hear her out. Find out what her request is.”
“You don’t think she’s found another buyer?”
Dante shook his head. “No.”
“What if she wants something awful, like for me to kill someone, and she says she’ll kill me if I don’t?” Olivia found herself frowning.
“Olivia,” Dante smiled a little. “I doubt you could kill anyone. And she’s very unlikely to kill you; she knows that would rouse my ire.”
“Well thanks,” said Olivia, taking care to hide the gratitude and affection that welled up at those words. She met his eyes, briefly. “I care about you too, Dante.”
Dante showed no emotion, but inclined his head. “I have a tendency to become, let’s say, impassioned on matters of clan. But no,” he sighed. “She is more likely to ask for one of the assets that you hold. Alice, the werewolves, or a member of your coterie. I trust that you know what order they come in.”
Olivia felt a spark of rebellion at his implication. “Dante,” she said. “Shen is my friend.”
“And with his sire’s entry into the chantry, his worth to the camarilla decreases markedly,” said Dante. “You should consider this.”
Anger fluttering like a trapped bird in her chest, Olivia bit her tongue and looked away. “We’ll see,” she said, and Dante seemed unconcerned by her recalcitrance. She changed the subject. “What happened last night? Cain said Samuel resigned.”
“I was seeking a way to free Alice of her blood bond to Jack,” said Dante shortly. “Things did not go as I had wished.”
“With Samuel?” Olivia mused. “But you two were such good friends.”
Dante made a scoffing noise, and for a moment he raised his mask of normalcy. Under it, he was red-haired, black-and-white suited Dante, but over his left eye was an ugly wound, open from his brow to his cheek. It looked like a claw-mark, the flesh either side swollen and incarnadine. Olivia reached for her own eye involuntarily, and Dante raised his mask again.
Olivia swallowed. “That looks painful.”
Dante waved a hand. “I could heal it away any time I wanted, of course,” he smirked “But I find it is much easier to play the poor, piteous victim with a scratch or two to back up my story.”
“Well, I can’t say I’ve ever had a problem with piteous,” said Olivia wrily.
Dante’s lips seemed to twitch. “I’m sure,” he said. “By the way, if you happen to see Jed, tell him he needs to stop making ghouls.”